SSU grad Franklin’s perseverance leads to coaching career

With DeLano Thomas coaching at his collegiate alma mater, and Tyler Boyles rising up through the coaching ranks in the sport of football, it’s clear that the men’s basketball program at Shawnee State is producing strong leaders.

One can also put 2012 Shawnee State University graduate Keelyn Franklin on that list as well.

The 2007 graduate of Warren G. Harding High School, just 15 miles away from nearby Youngstown, is serving as the head coach of his high school alma mater.

Franklin, much like Thomas and Boyles before him, is already seeing early dividends as Warren improved its overall record to 14-10 in the 31-year old’s first season at the helm after the Raiders finished 12-11 the season prior.

Even with a high school that produced talent such as Lynn Bowden, Maurice Clarett, Mario Manningham and Boom Herron, and a university that has produced Boyles and Thomas among other additional alums who have helped to put SSU in a greater light, it’s clear that Franklin has made his own name.

“It means the world to me to be coaching at Warren,” Franklin said. “To be able to play for two great programs and coaches (in Steve Arnold and Jeff Hamilton), and gain a ton of knowledge and experience, was awesome. Being able to pass those things on and give young people from my hometown that same experience is something that I take very seriously.”

As expected, Franklin had to earn his keep at Warren from the outset.

With a solid but not overwhelming 6-4 frame, it wasn’t until his junior year of high school that Franklin began to see crucial varsity minutes following the graduation of Manningham and four additional letterwinners from a 2004-05 unit that went 22-2 and advanced to the OHSAA Division I district finals.

Additionally, Franklin had two players that were younger than him — including Damian Eargle and Sheldon Brodgon — that eventually went on to earn Division I scholarships at Youngstown State while a third, Chris Henderson, ended up playing junior college basketball for Vincennes (Ind.) — a powerhouse that produced NBA talents such as Hall of Famer Bob McAdoo, Shawn Marion, Rickey Green and Carl Landry.

“Playing at Warren was a challenge everyday,” Franklin said. “You had to compete everyday, or you could get passed up. We played a top-notch schedule so that helped prepare me to be ready to contribute in college right away. I also played with three to four Division I guys, so that helped as far as not having to shoulder a huge load.”

Even with a who’s-who of talent beside him, Franklin used his two-way abilities to flourish.

A multi-time all-Steel Valley Conference honoree, Franklin ultimately led Warren to a 17-6 overall record as a senior.

He was the only player from the roster to earn all-state honors, obtaining Special Mention All-Ohio billing in his final season with the program in 2006-07.

Like his teammates, Franklin began receiving college attention for his play.

However, it was Shawnee State that made the strongest appeal to the Raider.

Despite the different locale and a four-hour, 20-minute drive, the Bears won out with Franklin due to the welcoming environment that he was greeted to.

“It was great,” Franklin said. “I remember playing against the guys on the team and doing really well. I also remember how nice campus housing was, which was a huge plus for me. (Jeff) Hamilton and his staff were great and really inviting. I hung out with Justin “Juice” Patrick while I was there and he was a great host. It was definitely different than Warren, with being in the hills, but it was very nice.”

At Shawnee State, Franklin was greeted to similar challenges that he faced at Warren.

Josh Reed, a NCAA Division I transfer from Morehead State to SSU who came to the Bears and averaged 20.7 points per game in his first season with the program the year prior to Franklin’s arrival, was one of Franklin’s defensive assignments throughout his first year in practice.

The other?

None other than Sean Elliott.

Those challenges, however, were similar to what Franklin was accustomed to at Warren.

By the time he reached the latter third of his freshman season, Franklin found himself in the starting lineup.

He ended up scoring a season-high 18 points against Urbana, and made the All-American Mideast Conference (AMC) Freshman Team as a result.

“My main expectation for myself was to be in the rotation, and earn consistent playing time,” Franklin said. “I ended up starting the last 10 games as a freshman. I didn’t really have to adjust my game much because I always held my hat on the defensive end, and that was how I gained playing time. Physically, I had to get stronger and get used to the speed of the game. Also, college players are extremely smart and crafty, so that was an adjustment also.”

From his sophomore to his senior season at Shawnee State, Franklin started in 86 out of a possible 88 games, including each of the 59 games that SSU participated in during his junior and senior seasons — and developed as a scorer, averaging 9.1, 11.5 and 12.3 points per contest in his final three seasons of action.

As a result, Franklin earned All-AMC honors in his junior season and All-Mid South Conference honors in Shawnee State’s first season in the MSC during his senior year.

He raised his free-throw percentage by 15-percent from his freshman year to his senior season, averaged 1.7 steals per game as a junior, and developed into a career 34.6-percent shooter from long range.

Hamilton’s tutelage and development of Franklin still sticks with the Warren native today, and to this day, Franklin has adopted a similar approach that Hamilton did by pairing his younger players against upperclassmen.

“(Jeff) Hamilton did a great job of pairing me with upperclassmen, which sped up my progression early on,” Franklin said. “My lifting partner was Aaron Davis, who was tough on me and wouldn’t let me take any shortcuts. Josh was a tremendous talent and Sean was one of the best shooters that I ever played against, so that was tough and challenging. Coach Hamilton was always there if I had any questions about what I needed to do to improve, but he really threw me into the fire early on and that helped for sure. Being a college athlete helped me to understand what it takes to be successful at the high school level as well as life in general. You have to be strong mentally and physically, and as a coach, I really like to throw my young guys in the fire early.”

Since graduating with his bachelor’s degree in Sport Studies in 2012, Franklin has continued to give back to his community through the game of basketball.

Prior to landing the head coaching job at Warren, Franklin served as the coordinator of the Warren Youth Basketball League — and served as an assistant and head junior varsity coach for Warren prior to landing the head coaching position in May 2019.

In his first season, the two-win improvement that the Raiders made included a double-overtime victory over Cleveland powerhouse Garfield Heights (63-61) in the third game of Franklin’s head coaching career, as well as a 64-46 win over Massillon, which featured 2021 Ohio State football commit, four-star recruit and multi-sport athlete Jayden Ballard.

”Hopefully, it means that we are going about things the right way,” Franklin said. “To see the improvements that we made as a team was huge. If we can continue to build on that, we will be back to being a premier team across the state very soon.”

Regardless of where life’s path takes him, Franklin knows that basketball, Warren and Shawnee State have helped establish the qualities necessary for him to succeed.

He’s certainly putting those qualities to good use — by making a major impact on the very community that raised him.

“It’s given me everything,” Franklin said. “I have discipline, confidence, the ability to perservere and structure because of basketball. This sport has given me all the tools needed to be successful in life. SSU taught me how to adjust to different circumstances and to be able to fight through adversity. We didn’t necessarily have the best seasons record-wise, but the experience I had was something that I wouldn’t change at all.”